Former players have accused former women’s basketball coach Cynthia Cooper-Dyke of “demeaning, demoralizing and abusive behavior,” according to a report from The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings and Dana O’Neil.
Players from throughout Cooper-Dyke’s coaching career told The Athletic that she made sexual and degrading comments and endangered athletes’ physical and mental well-being.
A four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets, Cooper-Dyke was named to “The W25,” a list of the league’s top 25 players of all time in celebration of its 25th season. Following her playing career, she began her college coaching career in 2005 at Prairie View A&M.
The Athletic’s investigation uncovered allegations that spanned three schools during Cooper-Dyke’s coaching career, beginning at UNC Wilmington in 2010. She also spent time at USC and most recently Texas Southern.
She retired from her position as head coach at Texas Southern in March after being investigated by the school’s Title IX office. During her final season, no-contact orders were issued to players, which prohibited them from talking with the coach or assistant coaches.
Cooper-Dyke’s Title IX hearing was scheduled for April 6, but shortly after her retirement, that meeting was canceled. Per Texas Southern’s policy, a Title IX complaint can be dismissed if “the Respondent is no longer enrolled or employed by the University.”
At all three schools, Cooper-Dyke is said to have discussed her and her players’ sex lives. In her first stint at Texas Southern in 2012, she reportedly got on her knees and pretended to perform fellatio on a male assistant with players present.
In addition to the reported sexual comments, Cooper-Dyke also reportedly called players slurs and curse words. She asked an assistant coach at Texas Southern if she could send a player, who is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, “home on a boat” while the team was at a tournament in the Bahamas, the report said.
“She would talk to us like we were murderers in jail, if you know what I mean,” one player told The Athletic. “I’ve never had a coach that’s cussed at me like she did or said some of the things she would say.”
Cooper-Dyke also put players’ physical and mental health at risk, The Athletic reported. At UNC-Wilmington, she allegedly made a player do log rolls across the court for 30 minutes, causing the player to vomit and the skin on her knees to rub off. While at USC in 2013, she reportedly pressured injured players to return to practice before they were cleared to do so.
Thaddesia Southall, who played for Cooper-Dyke at USC in 2013-14, was kicked off the team when she tried to explain that she was unable to bend her knee and practice.
“Every time something comes across my Instagram, someone celebrating her, I want to scream,” she told The Athletic. “She does not stand for what the WNBA represents. She does not stand for what they are trying to promote. This is a woman who demeaned us, who talked to us like we were not human. She made me hate basketball, and no one did anything to stop her.”
Another person in the program described their depleted mental state. “Not a day went by that I didn’t think about taking my life and even had an idea to do it at Cynthia’s house so she could understand what a devastating impact she had on me,” the person said.
Multiple complaints were presented to officials at USC, but it wasn’t until complaints were made to newly appointed athletic director Lynn Swann during the 2016-17 season that any action was taken. After an investigation, Cooper-Dyke was faced with possible termination and resigned. The reason for her departure was not made public.
Cooper-Dyke was hired at Texas Southern in 2019.
“Nobody has said anything or done anything, just passed her off to the next school,” a USC player said. “This woman mentally and emotionally terrorized us.”
In a statement texted to The Athletic, Cooper-Dyke said that her “countless” interactions with a majority of her players have been “positive.”
“My only intention was to maximize players’ potential and help them be their best,” she wrote. “While these allegations are untrue, everyone deserves to work, play and learn in a respectful environment, and I deeply apologize for and regret any words used during the course of a spirited game or practice that offended or hurt someone.”